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Last of the Mitford sisters' treasures soar to £1.8 million total; 3x pre-sale estimate
Henry Wyndham Ffelds bids at Sotheby's auction of the personal collection of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON (AFP).- Hundreds of personal items from the estate of an eccentric British duchess, the youngest of six sisters who scandalised 1930s British high society, were auctioned in London on Wednesday.

A collection of insect brooches, 36 model hens and a phone topped with a foot-high figure of Elvis Presley that dances and sings when the phone rings were among the items belonging to Deborah, the late duchess of Devonshire and one of the Mitford sisters.

"Together, the objects tell this amazing story about her taste, the choices she made about what to keep, the things from her childhood, the jewels from her husband, the things that made her smile," David MacDonald, a specialist overseeing the Sotheby's sale, told AFP.

Raised in decaying aristocratic splendour in the English countryside, the Mitford sisters were close to the Kennedy US political dynasty and then British prime minister Winston Churchill, but courted tabloid infamy with their unorthodox lives and political views.

Two became novelists, one embraced communism and two became part of Adolf Hitler's inner circle. 

Deborah, known to her friends as "Debo", led a quieter life until her death in 2014. She danced with future US president John F. Kennedy as a debutante, but married Andrew Cavendish, who later became Duke of Devonshire.

Hit with a massive inheritance tax bill, they set about monetising the estate.

Deborah masterminded the transformation of Chatsworth House, the family's 18th-century mansion in Derbyshire, northern England, into a profitable tourist attraction that now hosts more than a million visitors a year.

She was famously devoted to her chickens, having made pocket money selling eggs at market as a child.

She regularly hosted parties where live hens would strut about the dinner table, and was photographed feeding her chickens while wearing a Balmain ball gown and pearls.

Following Presley's death she made several pilgrimages to Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tennessee and gathered a collection of memorabilia that was included in the sale.

The collection reached £1.8 million ($2.5 million, 2.3 million euros) in all, almost three times higher than estimated.

Sold for £52,500 was an autographed pre-release of the novel "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh, a close friend who sought the Mitford sisters' suggestions for edits -- including advice on jewellery.

Many of her jewels were in the collection, including an 18.5 carat heart-shaped diamond brooch commissioned by her husband for their diamond wedding anniversary which sold for £40,000.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

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